Free trade lowers prices -- but not on things poor people need (and it pushes up housing prices)

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Part of the economic argument for free trade deals is that they benefit workers by producing cheaper goods -- even if you lose your manufacturing job, you can buy stuff a lot cheaper with the next job you get. Read the rest

What kind of house $300,000 can buy around the world

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Want to see what kind of house $300k will buy in Finland, Greece, Dominican Republic, Russia, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Montenegro, Spain, USA, Turkey, France, Croatia, and Indonesia (above)? Check out the photos below:

What kind of house $300,000 can buy around the world.
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New York's stately libraries sport hidden apartments for live-in caretakers

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For the first half of the 20th Century, it was common for New York's libraries to have live-in superintendents, whose families would live on-site in hidden apartments -- the last one of these apartments wasn't vacated until 2006. Read the rest

Low income US households get $0.08/month in Fed housing subsidy; 0.1%ers get $1,236

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America is in the grips of one of the worst housing crises in its history, with 1 in 3 households spending more than 30% of their income on mortgage or rent payments; the US government has two kinds of housing subsidy, one for poor renters and the other intended for middle-income mortgage payers, but guess who gets most of the money? Read the rest

More single adults living with parents than on their own for first time since 1880s

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A new Pew Research report finds that the number of single adults still living with their parents is at historically high levels -- in the US, the number of singles still at home outnumber the cohort of those living out of the house, something last seen in the 1880s. Read the rest

City of San Francisco tells man he can't live in wooden box in friend's living room

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Illustrator Peter Berkowitz published an editorial in the Guardian explaining why he chose to spend $400 to live in a (cozy) wooden "pod" he made with the help of a friendly designer and another friend who was a woodworker, assembling it in the living room of a pal who charged him $400/month to house the pod (tl;dr: The rent's too damn high, with a smattering of anti-regulation philosophy) Read the rest

German student ditches apartment, buys an unlimited train pass

Leonie Müller's undergrad thesis will include an analysis of her months living on Germany's high-speed trains, washing her hair in the bathroom sinks and writing her papers at 100+ km/h. Read the rest

Oklahoma governor must move daughter’s mobile home from mansion grounds

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Christina Fallin, the 28-year-old daughter of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, lives in a trailer on the grounds of the governor’s mansion. Taxpayers have started to gripe that the trailer is connected to the mansion's power supply, and the governor has responded by saying, "we’re gonna remove the trailer by this Sunday and she’s going to make other living arrangements.”

KFOR TV has more:

The governor’s office told us, by phone, they believe it is perfectly acceptable for Christina Fallin to live with her mom and for one of her step-brothers to be living in an apartment over the garage on the property.

They say Christina’s arrangement is just temporary until she finds a better place. Her step-brother is said to also just temporarily be living there, since he was recently engaged.

We did some digging and found that if this trailer were on any other property in Oklahoma City, it would be a code violation.

Image: KFOR TV video screengrab. Read the rest

Rent a camping tent in someone's backyard near Google X for $46/night

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Need a place to stay near Google X in Mountain View? John Potter is renting out a 9' x 7' Coleman tent in his backyard on Airbnb for $46/night. You're allowed one shower per day and can eat inside too.

"It kind of is (outrageous)," Potter told CBS SF Bay Area. "But maybe they should build more affordable housing in Mountain View."

"Tent in garden next to google x" (Airbnb) Read the rest

Thatcher's slow-motion housing timebomb

James Meek's essay "Where will we live?" is a detailed, passionate history of the housing timebomb that is detonating in England today. Thatcher set the time in the 1980s, when she sold off public housing to tenants and forbade local governments from building more with the proceeds, and subsequent governments have done everything they can to fuel and intensify housing speculation and bubbles. And now single moms, disabled people, and elderly people are being evicted, families can't afford housing on anything less than a banker's salary, and pensioners are being doomed to decades of poverty by low interest rates that can't be raised, lest they burst the property speculation bubble.

Housing in the UK is a microcosm for everything wrong with neoliberalism: corruption, cronyism, grinding human misery, and funny accounting to prove that it's all working, honestly. Read the rest

English mega-landlord evicts all welfare tenants, will no longer rent to them

Fergus Wilson, one of England's largest landlords, has announced that he will no longer rent to people receiving welfare benefits, and has served all of his benefits-receiving tenants with eviction notices. He says that the cuts to benefits in the UK have resulted in an unacceptably high level of rent arrears, so high in fact that rent guarantee insurers will no longer cover properties let to welfare tenants.

The problem of social housing tenants falling behind on rent will get much, much worse shortly, when the "universal credit" scheme is introduced -- a massive change in the way benefits are paid that has delayed by massive IT problems.

The hardest hit groups of tenants are elderly people and single mothers, as well as people who are too disabled to work. Read the rest

Downsizing? Try a 238 square feet home.

Jamie Smith Hopkins at The Baltimore Sun writes about the tiny homes more and more Americans are opting for: "U.S. houses got bigger for decades ... even as household sizes shrunk, according to Census Bureau figures. But the housing crash, foreclosure crisis and rough recession have pressed some to think differently." Read the rest

New York City's nastiest apartments

The Worst Room is a blog exploring the seedy and insanitary world of New York City's "affordable housing." The home featured above, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is yours for $1200 a month.

Update: And here's WTF Is a Cottage?, another new "bad apartments" blog focused on San Francisco. Less cramped squalor, but an extra helping of insanity. Read the rest

17 year old builds a tiny house on wheels

Austin Hay began to build himself a tiny house when he was 17 and planning to move out his parents' place.

Of hermit crabs and home sales

In 2005, my husband I bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. I was working for mental_floss and we thought we'd live there for a few years. But, in 2006, my husband got an amazing job opportunity in Minneapolis. So we moved and we sold our house. After a few months in the Twin Cities, we bought another one. In order for me to buy the house I now live in, somebody else had to move. When I left my house in Birmingham, I opened a spot in my neighborhood there that was filled by somebody else.

This is one of those things that seems so basic and "duh" that it's easy to overlook. It's easy to think that it isn't important. But sociologists, and economists, care a lot about these patterns—called vacancy chains. That's because vacancy chains end up describing very similar situations that occur in all sorts of social systems across many, many species.

When a resource is exchanged in a sequence from one individual to another, and every individual in the sequence benefits from the exchange, that's a vacancy chain. You see these patterns in human home sales—I, the people I bought my house from, and the people who bought my old house all ended up with a home that better met our needs. And you see the same thing when hermit crabs trade out their old shells for new ones.

Ivan Chase, emeritus professor at Stony Brook University, studies vacancy chains in hermit crabs and people. He's written about his work for the June issue of Scientific American, and he recently spoke with me about how vacancy chains work and what we can learn about human social systems from watching animals like crabs. Read the rest

14-y-o Florida girl buys foreclosed house with money from Craigslist furniture-selling hobby

NPR's Planet Money profiles Willow Tufano, a 14-year-old Florida girl who saved thousands of dollars by harvesting furniture from foreclosed houses and selling it on eBay. She's just bought half interest in a house that went for $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Her mom owns the other half, and the house went for $12,000. They rent it out for $700 a month now. Chana Joffe-Walt writes,

One day, Willow's mom, Shannon, saw a two-bedroom, concrete-block home on auction for $12,000 — down from $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Shannon was telling her husband about the house, when Willow piped up.

"I was like, 'What if I bought a house? That would be crazy,' " Willow says...

As I was working on this story, I kept thinking that when a 14-year-old kid can buy a house, the market must have hit bottom. I kept saying this to Willow, and she'd sort of vaguely nod.

But it's hard for Willow to see herself as symbolic of anything. To a 14-year-old kid in Florida, the housing collapse is basically the only world she's known. It's the landscape. It's a Craigslist hobby.

This 14-Year-Old Girl Just Bought A House In Florida (via MeFi)

(Image: Chana Joffe-Walt) Read the rest

11 percent of American homes are vacant -- UPDATED

UPDATE: Barry Ritholz sez,
In this case, what she wrote is not technically incorrect, but its very misleading. The lowest this rate has been over the past few decades is 8.5%. So while 11% sounds shocking, it is only somewhat elevated after the worst housing crash in the US since the Great Depression.

The typical data point used to describe vacant homes is the Home Ownership Vacancy Rate. In the US, that number is 2.7% for owner occupied houses and 9% for rental properties, apartments, etc.

The sensationalistic number referenced in the CNBC story (repeated by Consumerist) is not commonly used -- indeed, its towards the end of the Census Bureau release that reports such things.

What it references is the total number of structures that are unoccupied -- this includes a whole laundry list of empty properties -- abandoned old farm houses, (Not sure if vacation properties/second homes are included -- I need to check that). No one usually pays much attention to this number, as it provides very little useful insight.

Welcome to America after the housing bubble, where, according to the census, 11 percent of homes are vacant:
Now to vacancies. There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 '10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you'd think.

The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as "Held off Market" about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures.

Read the rest

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